Today, I pockled (that is the official term for it, others might say ‘drifted’) through Waterstones, (for the benefit of overseas readers, Waterstones is a major chain of bookshops in the UK). And here’s 2 things which jumped out at me almost immediately about modern culture:
- there’s a growing amount of books which are soundbites strung together and
- a belief that fine art is there to be a backdrop to the wonder of “me”
Neil Geiman “Art Matters”
I read a book review of Neil Geiman‘s book “Art Matters”, which said that the writer would be surprised if you didn’t want to make a t-shirt printing of a quote on each page. This sounded good, and I’m all for books which argue for art being relevant…. so when I glimpsed it in Waterstone’s today, I happily headed for it. Immediately, I was disappointed that it was so small and thin – although this makes it portable for musing upon at bus stops and the other delays with which life pauses us. Secondly – and more importantly – I was horrified to open the book and find that each page was a line or two and then a drawing. That was all. The pages were very very printable as T-shirt designs because they contained so little on them – you wouldn’t have to waste time picking out a soundbite, because that’s all there was on each page! (Now, admittedly you may well point the finger at me and say that I’m the person writing mere one-liner thoughts/poems called “hmms”, so I’m a bit on the brief side, myself, which is true.). However, I still felt so disappointed in the book containing so little, that I put it down, unable for the moment to enjoy it in its own form.
Once I’ve reconciled myself to its size and content, I shall go back and look at it, as is, on its own terms. Disturbingly, the book was on a table heaped with other books equally light on contents. Behind this table were shelves of large, glamorous, sizeable cookery books. I picked one down which had an interesting title – and found myself, again, feeling like the content was sparse but strung across a larger book. It had an interesting idea but there simply wasn’t enough in it to make it worth purchasing and taking home to read – because you could browse it in 3 minutes, it had general ideas, lovely photographs and about 3 recipes.
Dorling Kindersley “Artists their lives and works”
I was attracted by the title, bold cover and a bonus that it had a foreword by my favourite art commentator, Andrew Graham-Dixon. But what a shock lay in store – he wrote that he often went to his local art gallery – the National Gallery, London – well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it, if it’s your local? But he noticed that now people would go to a well-known picture, turn their back on it and take a selfie. Then walk away. So they now had a photo of themselves in front of a picture which they hadn’t bothered looking at!
As an art critic, Andrew was astonished and disappointed. So was I. I have once had a photo taken of myself in front of a picture – which was the size of half a room because it was the much-loved Monet pictures at the Orangerie, in Paris – and I wanted a picture of myself “in the picture” – but I also spent a considerable time examining and marveliing over the 4 pictures in the series – so that my companion was delighted to take a picture of me with them, as the best chance of leaving the art gallery on the same day we came in.
The Big Issue
The next thing I read was this week’s Big Issue magazine (Issue 1230) – and a picture with a MOD motorcyclist sporting an unfeasible number of mirrors stopped me in my tracks. (The photograph is itself from a book due for publication next week “Modzines: Fanzine Culture from the Mod Revival”) The amount of mirrors and looking at yourself tied in with my astonishment at the selfie narcissism of going to art galleries but seeing only yourself – so I collaged the picture into the featured image at the top of this post.